Today is the day of the press conference about my work here as a collagist and teacher. We will discuss the exhibition and the progress of the children in the art class. At least 15 collages are finished (miracles never cease) in this very short time and I summon the boys and girls who have produced this incredible work. They are to be interviewed as well and photographed. They are quite shy at first, then warm up to a very nice young woman reporter. Shamlu has arrived with the press and the girls and I present her and the reporter with bouquets of flowers. Father Stevens looks dapper in his rose we’ve put in his lapel.
I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be, now feeling confident that we will make our target for at least 30 works of art. Seeing the collages side by side as alleviated any trepidation I might have had, they look terrific and the kids are so proud.
After photographing all the work and the children and me “working”, the photographer takes a few portraits of me – now I’m nervous! Then tea and sweets are served, the children go back to their studies and the Telegraph reporter and I get down to the nitty gritty. She asks tough and thought provoking questions regarding the differences between teaching kids in the States and here, wondering if there is a difference in their ability to create. I tell her that all children have an innate ability to create, they just need the tools and an open , “unpolluted” mind – away from cell phones, TV and other distractions. But it has been my experience in all the places I have taught that a little respect and gentle prodding goes a long way. Eventually all children settle down into their own world, their imagination and the tactile nature of my technique makes “painting” more approachable. The fact that we use paper, instead of going directly onto canvas makes it less daunting – if you don’t like what you’ve started, then you move the paper around, or simply discard it and make fresh papers.
She also asks me if this work with the children of Udayan has changed me. Of course! I appreciate the simple things now, as I too don’t have cell phone and other distractions, just the natural beauty of this country and the thirst for knowledge these children have. Not to mention the warmth of the Bengali people. I have felt at home since I stepped off the plane.
I am asked if I will return and I again say that if I am asked I definitely will, this time without the constraints of an upcoming art show. Art is process oriented, I’ve always found it more satisfying to work for the sake of creating than for a deadline. If I am to return (and I will do my very best to take advantage of my multiple entry visa) then I would want to teach everyone, with no agenda other than the pleasure of watching these children blossom.
After the interview and the giant cleanup of the art room, Taniele and I decide to go into Barrackpore once again for another wonderful meal and some more CDs. We exchange the VCDs that don’t work on the laptop for 2 DVDs t o watch in the evening. The servers at the cafe recognize us (I wonder why) and even remember our favorite appetizers and drinks, as well as the green chiles we love so much. Satiated, we say goodbye and hail a rickshaw only to find it’s the same driver from the last time. He is so happy to see us he doesn’t want to charge us, but we insist! This skinny man is working his butt of literally to get us to the gate. I don’t even want to think of the weight he is pulling on this little vehicle. Arriving at the school, we say goodnight, I have a huge day of art classes and Taniele has the sports games in full tilt tomorrow.